Saturday, January 2, 2010

They're really more like guidelines.

My plan for adopting an ethical culinary lifestyle will require several modifications to my current lifestyle.

1. Buy meat, poultry, and eggs from ethical farms via a farmer's market or CSA (community-sponsored agriculture) program.

There are different opinions about what constitutes ethical meats and farms. I am looking for a farm that mimics a natural ecosystem, in which outputs from one part of the farm become inputs for another and vice versa. This type of farm is sustainable and eco-friendly. I also want the farm animals to have as close to a natural lifestyle and diet as possible. It may be hard to make a list of all the specific attributes of such a farm, but I can easily envision it in my mind: chickens wandering about pecking food bits out of the ground, cows grazing on grassy, rolling hills. You get the idea. I do not want to eat a steak from a cow that lived in a knee-deep pile of its own manure and was force-fed corn or dead bits of other animals. I do not want eggs from hens that literally commit suicide to escape the deplorable conditions in which they are kept. There is virtually no meat sold in a grocery store (even those that focus on natural foods) that meets my standards as ethical. "Organic", "vegetarian fed", and even "naturally-raised" are all words with official USDA definitions that still do not include cows grazing on pastures or eating grass as they have evolved to do.

2. Buy seasonal, organic produce from farmer's markets but supplement with organic produce from the grocery store as needed.

Clearly, there are less ethical issues involved with eating plants. However, the fertilizer and pesticides used with most produce is truly detrimental to our health and environment. Organic produce is produced without these chemicals. Some argue that organic produce at a grocery store is still "bad" because of all the (fuel) energy required to pack and ship it. I think that one step in the right direction is better than none.

3. When eating out, order vegetarian or seafood meals.

It is almost impossible to find out where the meat and poultry served in any given restaurant are coming from. The only way to be sure I am eating ethically when eating out is to opt out. In these situations, I am not going to worry about the produce being organic because, really, I would just never be able to eat.

That's it; three basic rules that I will be following from now on. These represent big changes for me as I have never before bought meat at a farmer's market or sprung for the organic produce or eaten out as a vegetarian! There is certainly more one can do, but I am most interested in changes that make a big difference in the way I consume food, and the types of food industry I support with my dollars, but that are also practical for my (or your!) busy and active life. So, just for the record, here are the caveats to my new ethical eating habits, for now at least.

(a) I am not going to restrict cheese and yogurt; I already drink soy milk and avoid most other dairy.

(b) I will eat what people serve me when a guest in their home unless it is reasonable to request vegetarian fare (i.e. - there are other vegetarians).

(c) Bananas. They're not local or sustainable, but they are so good for powering a runner! I'm undecided on whether to at least buy them organic so we'll see.

(d) I'm not considering fair trade or labor practices. Hopefully a farm that is good to its animals is at least as good to its people, but who knows.

(e) Occasionally, but not more than once a month, I will allow myself to eat a meal at a restaurant without any restrictions at all.

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